Continued from Combined Tea Sample Tasting – Part 2

What to Expect Experientially

It takes time.  You can’t rush trying to fully experience one tea version over a number of rounds, and doubling or tripling that scope takes even longer.  Taking notes may or may not be of interest – again it depends on the intention.  Even only for personal reference it’s very difficult to retain a detailed level of memory of individual aspects and transition cycle for more than one tea.  A month or two later most of that finer detail probably would have faded from memory.  Retaining that later could come in handy related to re-tasting a tea to see how your impression changes, or to compare it to another version later on.  

In cases when a tea might transition (change with age, or vary in relation to any other factors – for example settling after being shipped), retaining a detailed reference might be useful.  Tasting the same tea multiple times can sharpen your own evaluation skills; it often happens that flavors or aspects can be interpreted differently after more exposure, with a more complete impression available after trying a tea three or four times.

For a brand-new tea type, it’s natural to just notice a range of how versions can vary beyond preferring a set of individual aspects or picking up version limitations.  For trying two nearly identical tea versions–which typically only occurs by design (although if you comparison taste enough, eventually chance would bring this up)–it’s interesting how even finer levels of differences stand out.  Very slight variance in sweetness level, bitterness, underlying mineral tone, mouthfeel (astringency related), etc. can be noticed at a level that would be difficult to assign if tasting those teas over different days instead.  Very slight flaws or minor positive aspects also stand out more (eg. a less “clean” overall effect, or slightly more flavor intensity of complexity).

It’s odd how much preconceptions can shift an impression.  If you think one tea version should be better, or expect a certain range of aspects (eg. based on reading a description prior) these inputs could easily change results.  It’s even possible to get “stuck on” identifying the same aspects over and over based on expecting them (eg. noticing cherry or cocoa in most black teas).  That doesn’t necessarily mean it would be “better” to do a more blind tasting – again it depends on goals and preference.  In any case, individual preference will shift interpretation of any experienced characteristics, so subjectivity is an integral part of the process.

As you experience finer levels of details, minor variables would come into play more.  For example, mineral content in water changes outcome, and the same water wouldn’t necessarily be optimum for different types.  Extending that a little, two similar-type but somewhat different samples might compare differently based on the water used (related mostly to mineral content, ph, and perhaps other factors).  Tasting slowly or quickly would change how much time wet leaves would have to cool between rounds, altering final brewing temperature slightly.  Variances in the taster probably also play more role than one might think.  It’s as well to just keep things relatively uniform and not sweat all the details or outcome too much.

It wouldn’t be for everyone, such an approach.  It’s not a great match for casual tea drinking, adherence to ceremonial form, or when aiming for some sort of mindfulness experience.  Yet it can be positive for training or detailed review purposes.

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